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Old 03-30-2011, 04:23 PM   #19
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
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Re: Zen in the Art of Aikido

Hello Ron,

お久し振りです。Ohisashiburi desu. (In this context: Good to read you again after such a long time.)

I recollect that thread in E-Budo and the subsequent correspondence, especially the contributions by Shaun Ravens. It is somewhat staggering to find that the thread is nearly eight years old.

Well, since then I have been doing much more studying and have climbed the foothills of a subject to which Mr Ravens alluded, via his studies with Seiseki Abe. I mean here kotodama and the cognate kotodama gaku. (The best terms for making sense of this distinction is to call it the practice and theory of kotodama.) Judging from the writings of his son Kisshomaru, Morihei Ueshiba studied kotodama and kotodama gaku, particularly from two sources: Motoori Norinaga and Onisaburo Deguchi.

Motoori transcribed the entire Kojiki into kana syllables and in doing so made a detailed commentary on how to read the Chinese kanbun text in which it was written. In doing so, Motoori was trying to isolate the ‘pure' Japanese, by cutting away the Chinese accretions. (These accretions were actually very deep, constituting the entire system in which the text was written.) Motoori unavoidably made two untested assumptions: that it was possible to recover the Japanese; and that he had actually done so. If we assume that Motoori was right, the result was that the Masakatsu Agatsu episode in the Kojiki could be rewritten in the Japanese syllable system.

Onisaburo Deguchi studied kotodama and kotodama gaku and incorporated it into his Reikai Monogatari, the 81-volume Travels Through the Spirit World, which Morihei Ueshiba studied and annotated. Deguchi also produced texts on kotodama gaku. These are still available in Japanese and I actually have these handwritten texts. Deguchi made use of the earlier notion of ‘seed' syllables, culled from the Shingon Buddhist texts of Kukai and others, and attached separate ‘meanings' to the 75 Japanese kana syllables. You can see some of this in Ueshiba's Takemusu Aiki discourses, where he discusses the meaning of phrases like 高天原, where the kana syllables are たかあまはら TA KA A MA HA RA. The meanings that Ueshiba assigns to each syllable are quite different from their recognized semantic value: which is TAKA (high), AMA (heaven), HARA (plain). You can do the same with MA SA KA TSU A KA TSU KA TSU HA YA HI, but the major issue for kotodama gaku scholars is finding a system for handling the ‘new' meanings: How do you know that the new ‘meaning' assigned to each syllable by kotodama gaku is the right one? Expressed in terms of chinkon kishin practice, the question becomes, How do you know that the spirit you invoke by chanting each kotodama syllable is the real spirit of that syllable and not some other kami altogether? One possible answer is intuition, but this seems to go against the whole notion of gaku (study) and it is a fact that kotodama gaku never became popular in Japan outside a small coterie of scholars.

As I have discussed elsewhere, kotodama is found in a highly ‘sacred' text for the Japanese, which is the collection of poems known as the Manyoshu. This was used in the 1930s by the ultrantionalists in the wartime Kokutai no Hongi and resulted in the whole notion of kotodama being discredited as a tool of the prewar / wartime military. Postwar students like K Chiba were taught this and this explains why he could not stomach the terms in which Morihei Ueshiba expressed his spirituality. By comparison, Zen was much simpler and also had the attraction, especially for a rootless postwar would-be samurai like Chiba, at a loss about what to do with his life, of possessing an established samurai pedigree.

I could go on, but this post is long enough and dense enough as it is.

Best wishes,


P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
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